Coloradans asked to make se­ces­sion of­fi­cial

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY VALERIE RICHARD­SON

GREE­LEY, COLO. | Colorado has been de­scribed as a clas­sic pur­ple state, but in many ways it’s more like two states, one red and one blue, fight­ing to oc­cupy — and dom­i­nate — the same ter­ri­tory.

That is where the 51st state move­ment comes in. Eleven ru­ral coun­ties, up­set over a grow­ing di­vide with the Demo­crat-dom­i­nated state gov­ern­ment on guns, en­ergy and so­cial is­sues, are ask­ing vot­ers on the Nov. 5 bal­lot whether their elected of­fi­cials should pur­sue the cre­ation of another state carved from north­ern Colorado.

It sounds rad­i­cal, but then again, there is noth­ing or­di­nary about the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate in Colorado. The his­toric Sept. 10 re­call elec­tion that brought down two Demo­cratic state se­na­tors was only the lat­est salvo in the on­go­ing trench war be­tween lib­er­als in the Den­ver-Boul­der cor­ri­dor and con­ser­va­tives in the rest of the state.

“The po­lar­iza­tion in this state is more pro­nounced than we’ve ever seen it,” said Dick Wad­hams, po­lit­i­cal strate­gist and for­mer chair­man of the Colorado Repub­li­can Party.

For proof, look no fur­ther than the Nov. 5 non­bind­ing bal­lot ques­tion. At the same time 11 coun­ties are weigh­ing the se­ces­sion ques­tion, four lib­eral-minded mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are con­sid­er­ing whether to place a mora­to­rium on hy­draulic frac­tur­ing, also known as frack­ing.

The kicker is that no­body would be ter­ri­bly sur­prised if all the mea­sures pass, given the state’s frac­tious po­lit­i­cal di­vide. No polls have been re­leased on ei­ther the 51st-state pro­posal or anti-frack­ing mea­sures.

While the anti-frack­ing move­ment has gen­er­ated stiff op­po­si­tion from the oil and gas in­dus­try, there has been lit­tle or­ga­nized op­po­si­tion to the 51st-state ini­tia­tive.

At a re­cent de­bate hosted by the League of Women Vot­ers, about two dozen op­po­nents stood in front of the arena hold­ing sheets of pa­per with mes­sages that in­cluded “Don’t Di­vide Colorado.”

‘Guarded con­fi­dence’ for state­hood

Mean­while, large blue signs declar­ing “Send a Mes­sage: Vote Yes on 51st State” dot the farm fields and truck stops along ru­ral high­ways.

“We have guarded con­fi­dence that things will go well,” said 51st State Ini­tia­tive or­ga­nizer Jef­frey Hare. “We know a small group of Demo­cratic op­er­a­tives are pas­sion­ately op­posed, and they’ve got about 15 or 20 of them writ­ing let­ters to the ed­i­tor.”

The big­gest chal­lenge to the cam­paign has come from three Gree­ley lawyers who ar­gue that only cit­i­zens can ad­vo­cate for a 51st state. The ini­tia­tives were placed on the bal­lots by votes of the county com­mis­sions.

“[We] found no statu­tory au­thor­ity in Colorado giv­ing the com­mis­sion­ers the power to ad­vo­cate, in­ves­ti­gate or ini­ti­ate the cre­ation of a 51st state,” Robert Ruyle, a lawyer who serves on the Weld Wa­ter and Sewer Board, said at the Gree­ley de­bate.

The lawyers have asked the Weld County Coun­cil, which over­sees gov­ern­ment op­er­a­tions, to weigh in on the is­sue. Weld County Com­mis­sioner Bar­bara Kirk­meyer re­sponded that the com­mis­sion, which has the abil­ity to re­fer ques­tions to the bal­lot, acted at the be­hest of con­stituents.

“We have that au­thor­ity, and the only of­fi­cial act that this board has done is re­fer some­thing to the bal­lot, which we have the au­thor­ity to do,” she said.

‘War on ru­ral Colorado’

Be­hind the 51st-state cam­paign is the gap­ing ru­ral-ur­ban split ex­em­pli­fied by the 2013 leg­isla­tive ses­sions, which launched what crit­ics de­scribe as the “war on ru­ral Colorado.”

Democrats, who con­trol both houses of the leg­is­la­ture and the gov­er­nor’s of­fice, pushed an ag­gres­sive lib­eral agenda that in­cluded re­stric­tions on gun own­er­ship and a dou­bling of the state’s re­new­able-en­ergy man­date for ru­ral con­sumers only.

Many ru­ral Coloradans, in coun­ties such as Sedg­wick and Lo­gan in the north­east­ern cor­ner and Mof­fat in the north­west, were fu­ri­ous, ar­gu­ing that the bills were writ­ten and rushed through com­mit­tee with­out their in­put.

“This state that many of us grew up in, the state that many of us love, is slip­ping away into some­thing many Colorado res­i­dents, many Weld County res­i­dents, no longer rec­og­nize,” Ms. Kirk­meyer said at the de­bate. “We need to stand up for our­selves. It’s time to send a mes­sage: We will no longer be ig­nored.”

But the tra­di­tional Western pol­i­tics that long dom­i­nated the state are shift­ing rapidly, and not in the fa­vor of more con­ser­va­tive dis­tricts. Young pro­fes­sion­als in the grow­ing cities tend to back gay rights and other lib­eral so­cial po­si­tions, and the surg­ing His­panic pop­u­la­tion — up 40 per­cent in the past dozen years — helped Pres­i­dent Obama carry the state twice. Mr. Obama was the first Demo­crat to carry Colorado in two con­sec­u­tive elec­tions since Franklin De­lano Roo­sevelt.

The coun­ties that want to se­cede have a com­bined pop­u­la­tion of fewer than 400,000. Weld County is the most pop­u­lous with 252,000, and the 2010 cen­sus counted 2,379 res­i­dents of Sedg­wick County. By con­trast, Den­ver County and Boul­der County com­bined had more than 903,000 res­i­dents in the 2010 na­tional cen­sus.

Break­ing up is hard to do

Carv­ing a new state out of an old one isn’t easy, what­ever the po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­lus. Even if the bal­lot mea­sures pass, the state leg­is­la­ture would be re­quired to amend the Colorado Con­sti­tu­tion to re­con­fig­ure the bor­ders and re­fer a re­quest for a new state to Congress. Ap­prov­ing a 51st state would re­quire a ma­jor­ity vote of both houses of Congress, al­though the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion doesn’t re­quire the sig­na­ture of the pres­i­dent.

De­spite sim­i­lar rum­blings in re­cent decades in Nebraska, Wash­ing­ton, Cal­i­for­nia and New York, his­tor­i­cal prece­dent is lack­ing. Fully ad­mit­ted states have been bro­ken up only twice since the bound­aries of the newly in­de­pen­dent Colonies were fi­nal­ized in the 1790s. Maine was part of Mas­sachusetts un­til 1820, and West Vir­ginia se­ceded from Vir­ginia dur­ing the Civil War.

Steve Mazu­rana, a pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at the Univer­sity of North­ern Colorado, told ru­ral res­i­dents at the de­bate that they need to do a bet­ter job of play­ing the po­lit­i­cal game. He in­sisted that the state leg­is­la­ture “shut out no one” dur­ing the ses­sion.

“You’re not dis­en­fran­chised,” Mr. Mazu­rana said. “You need bet­ter lob­by­ists, you need to elect new leg­is­la­tors who can do the job of per­suad­ing. … You’re not go­ing to be bet­ter off un­der a 51st state. You’re still go­ing to be bet­ter off un­der the state of Colorado.”

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